Mammoth Victory For Elephant Conservation At CITES

HARARE, ZIMBABWE, Thursday, June 19, 1997 — The ivory ban has ended for three southern African nations, despite intense opposition from the U.S. government. This morning, at the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the 1989 international ban on ivory trading was conditionally relaxed for Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

“At last, the world has finally recognized what the U.S. continues to deny: The elephants of these countries are not endangered; they are well cared for because people benefit from conserving them,” said Ike Sugg, CEI's Fellow in Wildlife and Land-Use Policy. “These countries have shown that conservation through commerce works because it rewards good stewardship,” said Sugg. “Unfortunately, the citizens of most African nations cannot yet legally benefit from elephant conservation. The elephants of these countries will be at risk, with or without the ivory trade, until they embrace property-based conservation,” said Sugg.

When CITES listed the elephants of 35 African nations on Appendix I in 1989, elephants were declining throughout much of Africa, but at least 10 countries had stable populations. Indeed, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa had increasing populations. Proponents of the ivory ban argued that trade anywhere threatens elephants everywhere, but they were wrong. Southern Africa's elephant populations were burgeoning while trade was legal. “The ivory trade will not threaten elephants where landowners are empowered to own, profit from and protect them, as in Southern Africa,” said Sugg.

Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe have more than 150,000 elephants between them, or about one-fourth of the continent's total. More than two-thirds of the Parties to CITES voted in favor of downlisting these populations. Under strict supervision by CITES, the three countries will be allowed to sell a total of 59 tons of ivory to Japan worth millions of dollars. The money will go toward elephant conservation and community development, thus paving the way for conservation through commerce in Southern Africa.

“The U.S. opposed the downlistings, just as it opposed voting by secret ballot,” said Sugg. The secret ballot was key in the votes — developing countries could vote their conscience without fearing reprisals from the U.S. and other western nations.

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